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home > training > training tips > a visit to the health club

A Visit to the Health Club
There is no doubt that many outstanding runners have achieved a high level of success without ever setting foot inside a health club. For many years, I was one of those people. While this is true, several recent research studies have concluded that a properly structured weight training program not only enhances the quality of your running, but also provides significant health benefits as well.

  
A Visit to the Health Club

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By Don Allison and Jamie Auciello
Posted Thursday, 20 November, 1997

There is no doubt that many outstanding runners have achieved a high level of success without ever setting foot inside a health club. For many years, I was one of those people. While this is true, several recent research studies have concluded that a properly structured weight training program not only enhances the quality of your running, but also provides significant health benefits as well. If you are anything like me however, you feel a lot more comfortable running up the Heartbreak Hills than you do under the squat bar. Thus, I recently paid a visit to the Boston Racquet Club in downtown Boston with Cool Running contributor Jamie Auciello, an exercise physiologist who works at the club.

Nowadays there seems to be no good reason not to be a member of a health club. All kinds of clubs have popped up in recent years, a testimony to the convenience, benefits, and allure of an indoor workout. Many high schools and university also offer gym memberships. I belong to the Brandeis University gym in Waltham, MA. Less than a mile from my house, Brandies offers a pool, a 200 meter indoor track, and a full gym with weight equipment and machines. The Boston Racquet club where Jamie and I conducted our workout, offers full state of the art equipment and services as well.

While most runners feel at home on the treadmill, lifecycle, or stair climber, it is weight training in which real gains in fitness can be accrued. Most everyone knows from personal experience that running alone will increase cardiovascular function, improve running economy, and specifically train muscles, tendons, and bones for more efficient and faster running. While weight loss is a positive byproduct for many runners, there is also a negative consequence to becoming too "lean and mean." Some of the reduction in weight may be the result of a loss of muscle mass. While this may not directly impact running performance at first, over the long haul a loss of mass may result in a propensity for becoming easily fatigued and/or injured.

The easiest way to maintain muscle mass and tone is to visit the gym regularly for a weight workout. Like most anything in life, it helps to know what you are doing. Arbitrarily pushing a lot of weight around will not necessarily make you a faster runner. In fact, ill-conceived weight training can be more detrimental than not doing anything at all.

You don't have to be Mr. Universe or a gym rat to derive real benefits from weight training, however. I've read a fair bit about the benefits of weight training and even what machines or free weights aid running performance. Still, it is difficult to know exactly the correct way to approach each machine. Thus, I elicited Jamie's help. On a snowy November Saturday, Jamie and I made the rounds at BRC to get the inside scoop on weight training. Here are some tips from Jamie's to help you in the gym. - Don Allison

General rules for strength training

* Slow and controlled movement throughout the exercise: Two count on the positive, four count on the negative. Feel the resistance throughout the negative. Don’t bounce the weights or let momentum come into play.

* Proper Breathing: The two "EX"words go together. Avoid holding the breath. One should EXhale upon EXertion (the difficult or "sticking" point of the exercise.)

* Work the Muscle through a full range of motion: Unless limited by an injury, the muscle usually benefits most by working through the full range of motion of the exercise.

* Work opposing muscle groups to help achieve muscular balance: If you are going to work the hamstrings, work the quadriceps as well. If you are going to work the chest, work the upper back as well.

* These exercises should be done with a weight that the user is able to perform 10-12 repetitions with. The last couple of repetitions of the set should be challenging, and yet proper form for the exercises should not be sacrificed.

Let's Go To the Machines!

Leg Extension

Jamie on The Leg Extension

· Muscles worked - The quadriceps muscle group.

· Why should runners do leg extensions? Often the more dominant, opposing muscle group used in running, the hamstrings, overshadows the quadriceps muscles. Doing this exercise helps to achieve muscular balance. Strengthening quadriceps helps with proper kneecap tracking.

· Correct form - Performing this exercise in an alternating leg fashion helps to individually isolate each leg’s muscle group and takes some stress off the lower back, which can occur when performing a double leg extension. Ankle should be in contact with machine’s leg roller pad. Align knees with axis of the machine. Keep an erect torso and keep your back flat against the back pad. Keep your upper thigh in contact with the machine’s thigh pad at the peak of leg extension.

· Common mistakes - Knee not aligned correctly with machine’s axis. Going too fast.


Leg Curl

Jamie on The Leg Curl ·

Muscles worked - The hamstrings muscle group. ·

Why should runners do leg curls? Strengthens the hamstrings – a dominant muscle group in running. ·

Correct form - Performing this exercise in an alternating leg fashion helps to individually isolate each leg’s muscle group and takes some stress off the lower back, which can occur when performing a double leg curl. Position ankles under and in contact with the machine’s heel roller pad. Align knees with axis of the machine.

Common mistakes - Knee not aligned with machine’s axis. Going too fast.


Leg Press

Jamie on The Leg Press

· Muscles worked - Gluteus, Quadriceps, Hamstrings, and Calves.

· Why should runners do exercise? - Good, overall strengthening exercise for the muscles of the lower extremities.

· Correct form - Feet should be placed flat on the footrests of the machine - the starting position of this exercise should have the knees bent at about 90 degrees. Push foot rests forward to extend legs almost to full extension – keep legs slightly bent. Return to starting position and repeat. The buttocks and lower back should be in contact with the pads of the machine’s seat throughout the exercise.

· Common mistakes – Locking out the knees at extension. Lifting buttocks and lower back off of the pads. Going too fast.


Hip Extension

Jamie on The Hip Extension

· Muscles worked - The hip extensors.

· Why should runners use the hip extension? - These muscles used in the push-off phase of running.

· Correct form - Hip should be aligned with machines axis. Maintain an upright posture. Keep the non-working leg slightly bent. Knee should rest over the pad (set at ~ 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock.) Extend the working leg/hip behind the body

· Common mistakes - Not going through the full-range of motion. Not keeping the hip aligned with the machine’s axis.


Hip Flexion

Jamie on The Hip Flexion

·Muscles worked- The hip flexors.

· Why should runners do this exercise? These muscles used in lifting the knees while running.

· Correct form Hip should be aligned with machines axis. Maintain an upright posture. Keep the non-working leg slightly bent. Upper thigh should be behind the pad. Raise the knee towards the body.

· Common mistakes - Not going through the full-range of motion. Not keeping the hip aligned with the machine’s axis.


Military Press

Jamie on The Military Press

· Muscles worked - Shoulders (deltoids).

· Why should runners do the military press? - Good strengthening exercise for shoulder muscles, which help with posture and the arm swing.

· Correct form - Grip the bar shoulder width or slightly wider. Elbows should be under bar, wrists extended. Torso should be erect with back flat. Push bar up and overhead to full extension. Lower bar back down to shoulder level.

· Common mistakes - Not keeping back flat.





Lat Pull-Down

Jamie on The Lat Pull-Down

· Muscles worked – Upper back (latissimus dorsi). Posterior deltoid, and biceps also involved.

· Why should runners do lat pull-downs? – Good for posture and good for muscular balance in upper body.

· Correct form – Grip on the bar should be wider than shoulder width. Pull bar down, in front of the head, to the upper chest. Return the bar to the starting position (arms extended, and repeat.

· Common mistakes – Using too heavy a weight. Not letting the back muscle do most of the work.


Chest Press

Jamie on The Chest Press

· Muscles worked – Pectoralis muscles. Front of shoulder (anterior deltoid) and triceps also involved.

· Why should runners do the chest press? – Good for posture and good for muscular balance in upper body.

· Correct form – Grasp bar a little wider than shoulder width apart. Bar should be in line with the middle of the chest. Lower back should be in contact with the machine’s pad. Push the bar away form the body by extending the arms to near full extension.

· Common mistakes – Locking out the elbows. Arching the back. Going too fast.

Abdominal Curls

Jamie on Abdominal Curls

· Muscles worked – Rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques.

· Why should runners do ab curls? – The abdominal muscles are the core of stabilization and posture in one’s body – especially a runner’s.

· Correct form – Hands may be placed behind the head or arms may be placed across the chest. Pretend you are holding an apple between your chin and your chest. Curl the shoulders off of the ground in a slow and controlled manner. Let the abdominal muscles do the work. Return to starting position and repeat. Lower back should be kept in contact with the ground. This description applies to an abdominal curl exercise that is done on the floor. This picture is of a type of equipment that also allows you to work the abdominals as well (this exercise version should be avoided if you’ve got a weak lower back.)

· Common mistakes – Not focusing in the contraction of the abdominal muscles.

Hammer Curl

Jamie on the Biceps Hammer Curl

· Muscles worked – Biceps, forearms.

· Why should runners do the hammer curl? - Good strengthening exercise for biceps, which help to drive the arms and maintain arm positioning.

· Correct form – Grasp dumbbells so that palms are facing outer thighs. Stand erect with feet shoulder width apart and knee slightly flexed. Allow dumbbell to hang freely by the sides, elbows fully extended. Raise one dumbbell at a time, keeping the upper arm and elbow stationary, to about six inches from the shoulder. Lower slowly and alternate arms.

· Common mistakes – Allowing the body to sway by not keeping good posture. Not fully extending the elbow at the bottom of the motion. Not keeping the elbow and upper arm stationary throughout exercise.

Squats

Jamie on Squats

· Muscles worked - Gluteus, Quadriceps, Hamstrings, and Calves.

· Why should runners do squats? - Good, overall strengthening exercise for the muscles of the lower extremities

· Correct form – Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder with apart. Position feet pointed slightly outward. Position bar comfortably across the upper back. Keep upright posture: keep chest up and out, head tilted slightly upwards, and maintain a flat back. Lower the bar by flexing at the hips and knees, maintaining erect body posture, and keeping the weight over the middle of the foot and the heels. Lower hips until tops of the thighs are parallel to the floor. Raise the bar by straightening the hips and knees.

· Common mistakes – Improper posture. Weight on the toes rather than the middle of the foot and heels. Letting the knees move out over the toes.

- Jamie Auciello is a fitness professional at the Boston Racquet Club and a 2:59 marathoner.


 

 

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